An interview with Anna Frost
By Derek Newman-Stille
Anna Frost is the author of The Fox’s Mask and The Fox’s Quest, both fantasy novels that are set in ancient Japan and feature Japanese mythical beings. As a Teen Fiction (YA) author, she pushes genre boundaries and brings in characters that question norms.
Spec Can: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself to begin this interview?
Anna Frost: I’m a French-Canadian girl with hermit tendencies and a fondness for World of Warcraft player vs player fights. My house is full of chinchillas and ferrets and therefore impossible to keep clean for longer than five minutes.
Spec Can: What inspired you to set your novel The Fox’s Mask, in Ancient Japan?
Anna Frost: I’ve been reading manga (Japanese graphic novels) and watching anime (Japanese animation) since high school. Add in a few years of Japanese language classes, a month-long trip to Japan, and a fascination with Japanese fox shifters (kitsune). That kind of prolonged exposure was bound to influence the ideas that pop out of my head.
Spec Can: Why do you think so many authors set their fantasy novels in a world that is reminiscent of the Western Middle Ages instead of places like Japan? Why do they seem disinclined to explore Japan as a site of fantasy?
Anna Frost: I think people are inclined to write what they know, or at least start there. Because North American writers have a general cultural awareness of what the Middle Ages were like, it’s a logical starting point for world building. It takes effort to use a different culture as the base and even more efforts to spin out a story that is respectful of the model culture. People may also be afraid they’ll make offensive mistakes. It’s certainly something I worry about, but I think it’s better to try and fail than not bother trying.
Spec Can: What fascinates you most about Japanese myth?
Anna Frost: Generally speaking, I love how different their mythology is. My favorite example is the contrast between the Japanese fox shifter and the European werewolf. The mythical werewolf has no depth: it’s a terrifying man-eating beast. The fox shifter, however, is not so limited. It can be malicious in its tricks, but it can also be benevolent. It can even be portrayed as a seducer of men.
Spec Can: What were some of the issues that came up as a non-Japanese Canadian writing about Japanese subject matter?
Anna Frost: It’s frequent for me to have to do extra research to understand certain aspects or details of Japanese culture. Everything related to religion is especially tough, because not only do I lack any sort of personal experience with Buddhism and Shintoism, the way these two religions coexist in Japan seems unique. Today the Japanese do not seem to consider them separate at all. I’ll spare you the historical reasons for it, but it’s both extremely interesting and difficult for an outsider to grasp and portray properly.
Spec Can: What inspired you to make your kitsune characters capable of transsexual transformations?
Anna Frost: That part comes straight from Japanese mythology. A male fox can turn into a human woman as well as a female one can. It’s one big reason why I find the kitsune legends fascinating.
Spec Can: When I was a teen, LGBTQ2 books were non-existent for teens. How is that changing now? Do you see there being more LGBTQ2 books for teens in the future?
Anna Frost: Author Malinda Lo recently compiled a graph that indicates that if you put all the main publishing houses together, LGBTQ books currently represent less than 1% of new YA books coming out every year. I’m sure this number will grow as society continues to shift in favor of equal rights.
Spec Can: Fantasy books tend to still be pretty heterosexist. What are some ways that authors can “queer” their fantasy books a bit more? How can authors bring more LGBTQ2 content into their novels and what are some of the challenges they may encounter?
Anna Frost: That’s a tough question because it would never occur to me NOT to have LGBTQ characters in my work. It’s simply part of my worldview. The best advice I can give is this: do your research, avoid stereotypes, and always remember that LGBTQ characters are no less human and complex than anybody else. They need motivations and goals unrelated to their sex life. My favorite fantasy books are the ones where being gay is roughly as strange as preferring white chocolate over milk/dark chocolate.
Spec Can: What are some of the things you hope your novels will do to inspire readers?
Anna Frost: I don’t have lofty aspirations. If the reader is entertained, I’m happy. If the reader has also learned something or been spurred to find out more about Japan, I’m extremely happy.
Spec Can: Is there anything further you would like to add to this interview?
Anna Frost: I’d like to mention that Masque Books, a brand new imprint from Prime Books, will be publishing a new project of mine in the fall. I would call it a Japanese steampunk fantasy with a genderqueer main character. It’s got samurai on airships, giant sea serpents in the water, and steam mechas on the battlefield. The name is pending, but I’m sure it’ll be a fun one.
I want to thank Anna Frost for this fantastic interview and I encourage you to check out her novels at http://musapublishing.com/index.php?main_page=index&manufacturers_id=180 . I am pleased that she was willing to share so many insights and was willing to talk about how easy it is to include LGBTQ2 characters without those characters being entirely and exclusively defined by their sexuality.